The best anti-communism books

3 authors have picked their favorite books about anti-communism and why they recommend each book.

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Whittaker Chambers

By Sam Tanenhaus,

Book cover of Whittaker Chambers: A Biography

The Alger Hiss case riveted America in the late 1940s and early 1950s. His trial and conviction convince many Americans that Communist espionage had been a serious problem and the case made Richard Nixon a national figure. His chief accuser, Whittaker Chambers, was a fascinating, tormented, talented man and writer. Tanenhaus’s biography portrays him with all his virtues, warts, and contradictions.

Who am I?

For more than fifty years I have been fascinated by the relationship between the Communist Party of the United States and the Soviet Union. When Russian archives were opened to Western scholars after the collapse of the USSR, I was the first American to work in a previously closed archive where I discovered evidence that American communists had spied for the Soviets. Our understanding of twentieth-century history has been transformed by the revelations about the extent to which Soviet spies had infiltrated American institutions. Excavating long-buried secrets is a historian's dream!

I wrote...

Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America

By John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr, Alexander Vassiliev

Book cover of Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America

What is my book about?

Based on material from the KGB archives, the most complete account of Soviet espionage in America from the 1930s to the 1960s, demonstrating that virtually all those accused of spying during the Cold War, including the Rosenbergs, Alger Hiss, Harry Dexter White, and Lauchlin Currie were guilty - but exonerating Robert Oppenheimer. More than 500 Americans were involved with the KGB and GRU (Soviet Military Intelligence), and many of them are named for the first time in this book.

Joseph McCarthy

By Arthur Herman,

Book cover of Joseph McCarthy: Reexamining the Life and Legacy of America's Most Hated Senator

This is a balanced view of Senator McCarthy that, read in conjunction with Venona, Decoding Soviet Espionage in America, replaces the mendacity of historical orthodoxy with the truth, as columnist Nicholas Von Hoffman acknowledged in 1996: “Point by point Joe McCarthy got it all wrong, and yet he was still closer to the truth than those who ridiculed him.” The collapse of the Soviet Union opened both Soviet and American intelligence archives to Western scholars, if only briefly, and we now know that McCarthy’s charges were not, as we have been told for more than half a century, baseless, groundless, and irrational. Herman also reveals the dishonesty of Harry Truman and his enablers, who worked strenuously to obstruct investigations into Soviet espionage and poisoned political relations in this country.  

Who am I?

I entered the United States Army in August 1970, two months after graduation from high school, completed flight school on November 1971, and served a one-year tour of duty in Vietnam as a helicopter pilot in Troop F (Air), 8th US Cavalry, 1st Aviation Brigade. After my discharge, I served an additional 28 years as a helicopter pilot in the Illinois National Guard, retiring in 2003. I graduated from Triton Junior College, the University of Illinois at Chicago, and Northwestern University Law School in 1981. My passion for this subject arises, as one would expect, from my status as a veteran. My expertise is based on my own experience and 16 years of research and writing that went into the preparation of my book.

I wrote...

Reckoning: Vietnam and America's Cold War Experience, 1945-1991

By Neal Thompson,

Book cover of Reckoning: Vietnam and America's Cold War Experience, 1945-1991

What is my book about?

America’s triumph over Soviet Communism, orthodoxy tells us, was a splendid bi-partisan accomplishment in which all Americans can take pride, marred only by America’s singularly unjust, ill-advised campaign in Vietnam, which was undertaken in good faith by well-meaning and intelligent men acting in the country’s interest. Nonsense.

In Reckoning, I identify facts that have been hiding in plain sight—“elephants in the room” as they are commonly known—and prove that: 1) the war in Vietnam, while winnable, was lost by a corrupt political class that was focused on domestic politics and opponents in Washington rather than Communists in Asia; 2) the war crimes allegations advanced by the antiwar left are false. The facts and figures regarding day-to-day operations in Vietnam, when compared to those of Korea and World War II, prove clearly that the men who fought in Vietnam were as honorable as any generation of American veterans. Finally, I demonstrate conclusively that you will never understand the Vietnam War by reading about the Vietnam War. You must begin with the “legacy of the 1930s” and the policies to which it gave rise. For the Vietnam War was but one campaign among many within the Truman Doctrine, and if it was the “Bad War fought for all the wrong reasons and in all of the wrong ways” that orthodoxy tells us it was, the Truman Doctrine itself becomes nothing but a long campaign of, in Daniel Ellsberg’s words, “American aggression.”

If the Walls Could Speak

By Anna Müller,

Book cover of If the Walls Could Speak: Inside a Women's Prison in Communist Poland

This moving book gives insightful and humane treatment to a difficult, even taboo, subject: the cell life of female prisoners during the Stalinist period. Empathetic as well as eloquent, Anna Müller relies on numerous interviews as well as archival sources to piece together the world of the prison cell. While seemingly at the mercy of the guards and interrogation officers, back in their shared cell women prisoners are shown to seize upon what agency they had and actively shape their imprisoned existence. This is a book you won’t soon forget.

Who am I?

I am a Harvard-trained historian of Central and Eastern Europe who focuses primarily on Poland. Although I am of Polish descent, my interest in Polish history blossomed during my first visits to the country in the 1980s. My initial curiosity quickly turned into a passion for Poland’s rich and varied past. Poles, who put great stock in their history, seem to have liked my books: in 2014 I was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland. The books on Poland listed below, all by outstanding female historians, only scratch the surface of what is truly a rich field. Enjoy!

I wrote...

Poland: The First Thousand Years

By Patrice M. Dabrowski,

Book cover of Poland: The First Thousand Years

What is my book about?

Poland: The First Thousand Years is a lively and accessible introduction to Polish history, presented from its medieval beginnings up to the present.

My book is a sweeping account designed to amplify major figures, moments, milestones, and turning points in Polish history. These include important battles and illustrious individuals, alliances forged by marriages and choices of religious denomination, and meditations on the likes of the Polish battle slogan "for our freedom and yours" that resounded during the Polish fight for independence in the long 19th century and echoed in the Solidarity period of the late 20th century.

The Seven Days of Creation

By Vladimir Maximov,

Book cover of The Seven Days of Creation

In this multi-generational novel, Maximov showed what the Soviet system meant for ordinary people whose speech he had a rare gift for capturing. In his portrait of seven decades of the Lashkov family, he showed how the drive of the communists to control the lives of others on the basis of an ideology whose implications they themselves did not understand tore families apart. Pyotr Lashkov, the patriarch, became totally alienated from his alcoholic anti-communist brother.  Vadim Lashkov, a member of the third generation, is put in a mental hospital. A fellow prisoner advises him: “If ever you think of trying to escape, the search will be thorough, very thorough. And they’ll find you… because you’ve found out a little more than ordinary mortals are supposed to know.”

Who am I?

David Satter is a leading commentator on Russia and the former Soviet Union. He is the author of five books on Russia and the creator of a documentary film on the fall of the Soviet Union. He has been affiliated with the Hudson Institute and the John Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. He is presently a member of the academic advisory board of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.

I wrote...

Never Speak to Strangers and Other Writing from Russia and the Soviet Union

By David Satter,

Book cover of Never Speak to Strangers and Other Writing from Russia and the Soviet Union

What is my book about?

When David Satter arrived in the Soviet Union in June 1976 as the correspondent of the Financial Times of London, he entered a country that resembled a giant theater of the absurd. From 1976 to 1982, the Soviet Union was at the height of its world power and its people were in thrall to an absurd ideology. With the advent of Gorbachev’s perestroika, the Soviet population was liberated from the ideology and the state hurtled to its inevitable collapse. When independent Russia emerged, the failure to replace the missing ideology with genuine moral values led to Russia’s complete criminalization.

The articles in this unique collection are a chronicle of Russia from the day David Satter arrived in the Soviet Union until the present. He was banned in 1982, allowed back during perestroika, and finally expelled from Russia in 2013 on the grounds that Russian intelligence regarded his presence as “undesirable.” He is the only American journalist to be expelled from Russia since the end of the Cold War.

The Hero in History

By Sidney Hook,

Book cover of The Hero in History

Hook draws an interesting distinction in his book on heroes. He discusses two types of heroes: the eventful man and the event-making man. “The eventful man in history is any man whose actions influenced subsequent developments along a quite different course than would have been followed if those actions had not been taken. The event-making man is an eventful man whose actions are the consequence of outstanding capacities of intellect, will, and character rather than of accidents of position. This distinction tries to do justice to the general belief that a hero is great not merely in virtue of what he does but in virtue of what he is." 

This is an interesting distinction that we can profitably deliberate on. Hook was a philosophy professor for decades at NYU and he brings to the issue of heroes a grasp of the historical discussion of it.

Who am I?

I am a kid from Brooklyn who is, and always has been, an inveterate hero worshiper. In a world that is generally mad and too often violent, I have weaned myself on the lives of heroes. I may lack their prowess, but I have striven for their dedication to excellence. I have published numerous books, including The Capitalist Manifesto: The Historic, Economic, and Philosophic Case for Laissez-Faire. But it is my recent book that crowns a lifetime of thinking about heroes. What is their nature? What factors in the world give rise to the possibility—and the necessity—of heroes? How do we rationally define the concept “hero”? These are the questions my book addresses and seeks to answer.

I wrote...

Heroes, Legends, Champions: Why Heroism Matters

By Andrew Bernstein,

Book cover of Heroes, Legends, Champions: Why Heroism Matters

What is my book about?

The book starts with a broad range of examples of differing kinds of persons, distinguishing those who perform life-enhancing deeds, especially on an epic scale, from those of more prosaic attainments. Some are dauntless in the face of impediments and/or dangers that would dismay a lesser person. Some possess prowess, whether intellectual, bodily, or both, exceeding that of Everyman. Some pursue substantial life-promoting goals and never surrender their vision. Individuals who combine these traits tower over those who do not and show us what it means to be a hero.

Further, heroes are necessary for two reasons. First, the curing of disease, the defense of liberty, the identification of new truths, and so forth, often takes ability and courage beyond that of Everyman. It is the work of heroes. Second, a hero’s unswerving dedication to life-enhancing goals serves as inspiration to all honest persons to be the best versions of ourselves.

The Specter of Communism

By Melvyn P. Leffler,

Book cover of The Specter of Communism: The United States and the Origins of the Cold War, 1917-1953

Leffler’s book is about much more than North Korea, but it covers world events that are critical to understanding the communist Korean state, its birth, and its conflict with the United States. I drew heavily on Leffler’s work in my own book to place North Korea within the context of surrounding geopolitical developments.

Who am I?

I became interested in North Korea in 2002 when the George W. Bush administration declared the country to be part of an Axis of Evil, along with Iraq and Iran. Bush had lied about Iraq, to justify a war against that country, and I wondered what evidence, if any, his administration had that North Korea was either evil or part of an axis. The answer was none. Bush was able to propagate one North Korean myth after another because the public knew very little about the country. I wished to give people some background so they could make sense of what they were reading and hearing about North Korea in the news and social media.

I wrote...

Patriots, Traitors and Empires: The Story of Korea's Struggle for Freedom

By Stephen Gowans,

Book cover of Patriots, Traitors and Empires: The Story of Korea's Struggle for Freedom

What is my book about?

Patriots, Traitors, and Empires is an account of modern Korean history, written from the point of view of those who fought to free their country from the domination of foreign empires. It traces the history of Korea’s struggle for freedom from opposition to Japanese colonialism starting in 1905 to North Korea’s current efforts to deter the threat of invasion by the United States.

Detroit's Cold War

By Colleen Doody,

Book cover of Detroit's Cold War: The Origins of Postwar Conservatism

I like this book because it forces us to rethink what the Cold War really was. The book identifies key figures in anti-communist crusades in post-World War II Detroit: workers, white homeowners, city officials, Catholics, and manufacturing executives, and argues that the core elements of their “anticommunism” were not fears of Soviet incursion, but sociocultural tensions at home that derived from drastic changes in wartime and postwar Detroit, which observed a sudden influx of African Americans, Southern whites, and immigrants. 

Thus, the book argues that Cold War Detroit’s “anticommunism” was not a new development in the postwar era, but a continuation of what had previously been labeled anti-unionism, white-supremacism, anti-secular Catholicism, and anti-New deal sentiments, all of which can be characterized as expressions of ongoing “anti-modernist” tensions within American society. Such a reexamination of Cold War anti-communism is significant because it could open up new territory for rethinking what anticommunism…

Who am I?

Masuda Hajimu (family name Masuda) is a historian at the National University of Singapore. He specializes in the modern history of East Asia, the history of American foreign relations, and the social and global history of the Cold War, with particular attention toward ordinary people and their violence, as well as the recurrent rise of grassroots conservatism in the modern world. His most recent publications include: The Early Cold War: Studies of Cold War America in the 21st Century in A Companion to U.S. Foreign Relations; “The Social Experience of War and Occupation” in The Cambridge History of Japan (coming in 2022), among others. He has served as a residential fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (2017-18); Visiting Fellow at the University of Cambridge (2020); and Visiting Scholar at Waseda University (2020).

I wrote...

Cold War Crucible: The Korean Conflict and the Postwar World

By Hajimu Masuda,

Book cover of Cold War Crucible: The Korean Conflict and the Postwar World

What is my book about?

Masuda Hajimu’s Cold War Crucible is an inquiry into the peculiar nature of the Cold War. It examines not only centers of policymaking but seeming aftereffects of Cold War politics during the Korean War: Suppression of counterrevolutionaries in China, the White Terror in Taiwan, the Red Purge in Japan, and McCarthyism in the United States. Such purges were not merely end results of the Cold War, Masuda argues, but forces that brought the Cold War into being, as ordinary people throughout the world strove to silence disagreements and restore social order in the chaotic post-WWII era under the mantle of an imagined global confrontation. Revealing social functions and popular participation, Cold War Crucible highlights ordinary people’s roles in making and maintaining the “reality” of the Cold War, raising the question of what the Cold War really was.

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